The Best Wood For Smoking Fish – We Asked The Experts

When it comes to smoking salmon, trout or any other fish, most of the popular smoking woods found in stores aren’t always suitable. We need to be careful with fish because it has a sensitive flesh. Most smoking woods have strong, bold flavors that will overpower the natural fish flavor. So choosing the right smoking wood is an important decision. However, certain woods blend perfectly with all types of fish. The right wood will produce a subtle smoke flavor that will permeate the flesh, without overpowering the fish’s natural flavor.

Alder is the best wood for smoking fish because it produces a mild smoke that won’t overpower the natural fish flavor. Fruit woods like apple and cherry are popular choices for smoking fish and are nearly always available in stores. Citrus woods such as lemon, lime, or orange are harder to find, but these woods are a perfect match for smoking salmon, trout or any type of fish. For something a little stronger, pecan is another popular choice. Avoid using hardwoods such as hickory, oak or mesquite because they will overpower the natural fish flavor. If you use any of these strong smoking woods, do not expose the fish to the smoke for very long, or blend with a softer wood.

The 5 Best Woods For Smoking Fish

1AlderDelicate smoking wood, perfect for all types of fish. Alder has a subtle sweet flavor. This wood produces a light aroma that won’t mask the natural fish flavor. Popular choice for salmon, trout, snapper, grouper. Buy alder in chips or chunks.
2. Citrus Any of the citrus varieties are suitable for smoking fish. Orange, lemon or lime wood produce a sweet, citrus flavor that blends well with fish, and is light enough so it won’t overpower the meat. Buying citrus wood might be difficult, so source locally.
3. AppleApple is a great choice for salmon, or any other fish, and works well when blended with cherry wood. Apple wood is probably the most common smoking wood found in stores. Some smoking wood on this list is scarce, but apple is nearly always available. You can buy apple wood on Amazon in chunks, chips or pellets.
4. CherryCherry will not only give the fish a light, sweet smoke flavor, it will also add some color. So expect your fish to end up a shade darker by the time it’s smoked. Apple and cherry is one of the best wood combinations to mix when smoking meat. You can buy cherry in chunks, chips and pellets.
5.PecanIf you want something a little stronger, pecan is a great choice for fish. It may be too strong for salmon, trout, etc, but is suitable for the mackerel, amberjack and other fish with a thicker flesh. Buy pecan in pellets, chunks or chips.
The Best Wood For Smoking Fish

1. Alder

Arguably the most popular wood for smoking fish, the soft and woodsy alder is ideal for subtly smoking salmon fillets. This wood is the safest choice for all types of fish. Scroll though the meat smoking forums, alder shows up at the top of just about every list. Alder, like beech wood, has a reputation for being too under flavored to smoke salmon. If you wan’t a little more smoke flavor, mix in a little apple or cherry.

2. Citrus Wood

Citrus wood such as orange, lemon or lime are perfect for smoking fish. These woods produce a light smoke, so they won’t overpower the thin flesh found on most fish species. Citrus wood also leaves a slight tangy, sweet flavor on the fish. Depending on where you live, citus woods may be hard to find. If you manage to get your hands on a citrus tree, just make sure the wood is properly dried, and is free of chemicals. For more information on wood, check out this complete guide on barbecue website, Amazing Ribs.

Fruit Wood

Any fruit wood is suitable for smoking fish because they have softer flavors with a hint of sweetness. Apple and cherry are the most common, but you can also use pear, peach, plum or any other fruit wood available. As with the citrus wood, if you’re not buying the wood from a store, just make sure the wood from the fruit tree is dry and hasn’t been sprayed with any pesticides.

3. Apple

Apple wood is one of the tastiest fruit woods out there, which makes it particularly popular among smoking enthusiasts. The fresh taste produced by smoked apple wood may be used for salmon without spoiling from the inherent qualities of the fish.

4. Cherry

Cherry wood is a favorite among people who love smoked fish and poultry. The gentle sweetness of this wood complements the delicate fish well while letting its natural flavor shine through. Cherry is also one of the few woods that will also give the fish some color.

5. Pecan

Pecan is one of the most versatile smoking woods, and it’s available just about everywhere. Related to the hickory family, this nutty wood will give the fish a moderate smoke flavor without being too overbearing.


Oak wouldn’t be my first choice when smoking fish, but mixing in a little oak isn’t out of the question. There are several types of oak wood available, depending on your region. Oak wood is a flexible blending wood since it can cope with high temperatures during combustion. Mix it with a little apple, cherry, or another fruit wood.


If you want sweet and subtle tastes, maple is a terrific alternative for smoking salmon. It’s not overpowering, so it won’t mask the salmon’s flavor, and it may give your dish a touch of sweetness.

Woods To Avoid When Smoking Fish

Certain woods, such as mesquite, hickory or oak, are not recommended for smoking fish because they will entirely mask the fish’s flavor.


Hickory is great for smoking beef, pork or poultry, but it doesn’t do a great job with salmon. Now, naturally, there are many who would claim that they can use it for salmon; those are the folks who want their salmon to have a lot of taste. You can mix a little hickory in with a milder fruit wood. However, use hickory with caution.


Do you recall the delicious fish you barbecued on a cedar plank? It has an absolutely exquisite flavor. We would love to give you a scientific justification for why cedar wood smoking salmon is so wrong, but we just don’t have it. Perhaps this is because cedar wood does not smoke nicely when used in an enclosed grill.


Popular in Texas, mesquite has the reputation as the most powerful smoking wood. Mesquite is an acquired taste and is best suited for beef. This smoking wood is good for hot-and-fast cooks when you need to infuse smoke in a hurry. However, with the thin flesh on most fish, this Texan wood will overpower the natural fish flavor.

Smoked Salmon Recipe

Smoked Salmon on a Kettle Grill

Smoked Salmon on a Kettle Grill

Slow smoked salmon with charcoal and wood

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 5 hours 30 minutes


  • Salmon
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 gallon of water


    The Brine

    Dissolve the sugar and salt separately in a pot and pour it in to a container or a ziplock bag. 
    Soak the salmon in the brine for about 2 hours (not longer).
    Then remove and pat the fish dry with a paper towel. 
    To dry out the salmon, place them on an airing rack for no longer than 2 hours.

    Smoking The Salmon

    Place 100 charcoal briquettes in the kettle grill. 
    Light about 5 or 6 briquettes in a chimney starter and wait until they are fully lit. 
    Place the lit coils on the side of the unlit charcoal and give the kettle about 20 minutes to stabilize. 
    Adjust the vents on your Weber kettle to about 1/4 on the top vent and 1/4 on the bottom vent.
    Give the kettle about 20 minutes to come up to temperature. If you want to cook the salmon faster, place about 80 unlit coals in the kettle and light another 30 in a chimney starter. 
    Place the lit coals to one side of the 80 underneath coals.
    Give the kettle grill about 20 or 30 minutes to come up to temperature. Adjust the top vent to half and the bottom vent to half.
    Once the temperature is stabilized at 250° F to 275° F, place the salmon on the smoker. 
    Throw a couple of chunks of wood onto the fire about prior to adding the meat. 

Nutrition Information:

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 117

Smoking Fish

One of the greatest ways of cooking fish is with smoke. Choosing the right wood is essential. Group fish by the overall color of their flesh to choose what woods to use when cooking salmon, perch, or trout instead of thinking about them as separate species.Think about the fish at your local market and classify them as either orange, gray, or white. Salmon and trout are the orange fish. Species of yellowtail, tuna, herrings, and sardines are examples of gray fish. Species of halibut and catfish would be classified as white.

Smoke from a fire may kill the taste of white or orange fish quickly, while gray fish can tolerate considerably more intense wood smoke for much longer. If you are unsure of how much smoke you want to use on your fish, start with a moderate wood like oak or one of the fruit woods. Even if there isn’t as much smoke on your fish as you’d want, it will still be delicious, but too much smoke may completely ruin a perfectly wonderful piece of fish.

How To Smoke Salmon Like A Pro

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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